Council consents under the gun

Surging ahead: Building in Shotover Country

Building consent processing times in Queenstown are going backwards again.

Queenstown’s building department has come under scrutiny in recent years for slow consent processing.

It faced losing its consenting powers and concerns sparked a forensic audit by Crown body IANZ.

Earlier this month, the council trumpeted the fact it had regained its full accreditation after a year of “continuous improvement”.

It might have called that too soon.

Fresh council figures provided to Mountain Scene show it’s going backwards again.

So far this month, 74 per cent of consents have been processed in the statutory 20-day period.

That’s down from 79 per cent in January and 89 per cent in October.

February’s rate is the council’s worst since July, when only 52 per cent of consents were put through within 20 days.

Consents boss Tony Avery attributes the slip to an increased number of applications coming in the door just before Christmas.

He says the council is throwing everything at the issue, including hiring external contractors, while they’re still on the hunt for two in-house planners.

At the moment there’s a 61-application backlog of consents that have been waiting for longer than 20 days.

This time last year it was 31.

Building companies are just having to suck it up.

David Reid Homes boss Abi Mackenzie, whose husband Fraser owns the company, is frustrated with the council.

The company currently allows anywhere between one to three months for a consent to be approved.

But she says there are also inconsistencies, even though it sometimes puts through near-identical house designs.

Different contractors can have entirely different questions, she says.

Delays have a domino effect, Mackenzie says.

If the company’s unable to start building on time, clients stay in rental properties longer and tradies are having to find other work.

In one instance, Mackenzie answered a council contractor’s question but didn’t hear back.

She found out that person had gone on holiday and the consent had been sitting on their desk for weeks.

Fowler Homes boss John Mansfield is similarly frustrated with the local council.

“I understand they’re busy but they’re struggling with consistency.

“They’re using people from all over the place to try to keep up with the numbers so because we’re dealing with different people from different areas we’re not always getting that consistency with it.”

Mansfield sums up the problem like a true Kiwi bloke: “Even though the building code is the building code, it’s still open for interpretation.

“It’s just like watching rugby – you get a different ref, you get a different way of looking at the rules.”

Avery says the council’s working on fixing the problems.

“Bringing in a whole lot of contractors is not a simple thing – there’s a whole lot of management requirements to ensure the quality, consistency and timing of the decision is good.”

He also mentions clumping similar consents together to speed up the process.

However, he can’t predict when processing times might speed up.

Avery suggests consents be lodged two months before a build.

“I know it’s not ideal but don’t rely on the 20 working days.”